I know the United States of America is not Canada. I am aware that the religious scene in the US is significantly different than the religious culture north of the 49th Parallel.
I am also aware that religion makes a convenient whipping boy for sophisticated cultural critics.
But those of us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus who live in Canada cannot afford to completely ignore the religious realities that are blazoned in technicolour in the US. Even though we may not practice our Christianity primarily in the United States, we Canadian Christians would do well to take warning from the critics of those who practice their faith in the US.
In a recent blog post at HuffingtonPost Clay Farris Naff levels a particularly painful criticism against those of us who try to follow the teachings of Jesus. The whole piece is worth reading and the videos attached to the article are chilling to watch. See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/clay-naff/old-time-religion-fuels-americas-climate-of-hate_b_1750991.html
In his piece titled “Old Time Religion Fuels America’s Climate of Hate”, Naff accuses religions of fostering a climate that fans the flames of hate crimes.
I reviewed the FBI’s hate crime statistics for the years 2004-2010 (the latest year available), and found that religion as the explicit motive for hate has jumped by nearly a quarter from 16.4 percent to 20 percent of all hate crimes.
To learn that religion now fuels one-in-five hate crimes should raise concerns. But there’s more: hate crimes against gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities have risen even faster. Together, the two categories come to about 40 percent of all reported hate crimes. Is there a connection?
At the root of hate crimes Naff suggests is fear of differences and a feeling of threat that comes from being surrounded by bewildering diversity.
For millennia, religion served to enforce harmony within groups but did nothing to stifle war, genocide or the exploitation of other peoples. (You can read all about it in Deuteronomy!) The wonder is that societies and religions co-evolved a better way: in just the last few centuries we have developed government based on the consent of the governed, institutions based on the principle of fairness, and religions based on universal compassion, equality and progress.
That drives reactionary religionists mad. Whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jew, the adherents of Old Time Religion fear that an erosion of authority — God’s authority! — will bring punishment, humiliation and ruin upon their community — just as, say, 10,000 years ago, letting down your guard might have let a marauding band enter the encampment to kill the men and carry off the women and children. You can only run for so long. When there’s nowhere to flee, fear turns to hate.
Today, there is nowhere to run. We’re all mixed together in one world. Those of us who are proud to call ourselves liberal, progressive and compassionate — we also harbor the instinct to hate. I watch Pastor Worley strutting about or look at the crazed eyes of Wade Page, James Holmes or Jared Loughner, and I can feel rage course through my veins. “Killing’s too good for them,” my instinct screams. But that’s no answer. It just takes us back to the primeval days, when the threat of vengeance was the only way to ensure that you and yours would be feared enough to avoid enslavement or slaughter.
As the world shrinks, there is no escaping the inevitability of encountering differences.
Practitioners of religion, more than any other people should be at the forefront of those forces calling for tolerance in the midst of diversity. We should be the ones to whom the world looks for a model of what it means to live together with deep respect and honour for all people no matter how different or “strange” they may seem.
At the heart of Christian faith is the conviction that all human beings are created “in the image of God” and are therefore due all the respect and reverence we would accord to the maker in whose image they were created. If the practice of our faith does not lead us to offer the world a vision of the profound unity of the human family, we would do well to reconsider the commitments of our faith tradition.